As most of you know, I have a deep love for good theology. My work in the field of moral philosophy is rooted in my previous work in theology (with a master’s degree in English literature thrown in for good measure). I am spending this year in Genesis for my own personal reading, and, to this end, will offer small vignettes that reflect my thoughts on this mightiest of texts. To me, Genesis displays in rich fervor the passion, the pain, the horror, the trauma, and the hope of living in the depths of the human condition under the severe mercy of a God who makes all things new.
My hope is that these small vignettes will offer up, like movements in a symphony, notes of light, dark, despair, hope, silence, and crescendo so that, perhaps, when taken together, they might provide a brief hint at the music of creation.
For Genesis begins as music, as poetry. The first chapter of Genesis is mythopoetic; that is, it embodies both myth and poetry in the fullest sense of those words: myth in that the story it tells transcends the need for scientific rationalism and poetic in its lyrical, rhythmic moving from chiastic structure, to its masterful parallelism to metered repetition.
The first chapter of Genesis is meant to be sung. The rabbis believed that if something is worth saying, it is worth saying beautifully, and the creation story in Genesis says what it has to say as beautifully as anything done by William Shakespeare, John Milton, Robert Burns or Walt Whitman.
Genesis is a creation story unlike any other (certainly unlike anything offered by the surrounding cultures of Babylon, Egypt, or Assyria, and most unlike anything the Greeks had to offer up) for these two very distinct reasons: this is one God singing creation into existence! There are no bloody battles involving sibling rivalries, no pantheon of gods warring over the heavens, no hatred or vengeance or violence…just music!
It is (quite literally) the music of the spheres. To me, there is no better rendition of this than Aslan singing Narnia into existence in C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew:
“In the darkness something was happening at last. A voice had begun to sing…it seemed to come from all directions at once…Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. There was hardly even a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful noise he had ever heard. It was so beautiful Digory could hardly bear it”
This is what reading Genesis is like: there are no words (though I will do my best to add my feeble thoughts) and it is so beautiful, if we listen closely enough, we find that we too can hardly bear it. It is haunting, severe, horrible, lovely, and wild. It is terrible and scorching, timeless and timely. It convicts, conflicts, and confronts. It is, at no point, a tame story.
In future posts, I will offer my thoughts on specific passages and your thoughts are, as always, an anticipated part of the discussion.
These vignettes will not be concerned with debate or dogma, but rather with what this text has to offer to the conversation about living in the human condition, for, in the end, that is what makes this text so truly special; it provides a gut-wrenching look into what it means to be human, in the mud, in the muck, in the sweep, in the fire, in the foam.
I will also continue to offer posts on other things that haunt me, so, if theology is not your thing, stick around for more thoughts on pursuing wisdom, creating culture and re-imagining education.